Matthew M. Whitehead
When John recorded his vision of the apocalypse in the book of Revelation, he had a three-point, ready-made outline—written centuries earlier. When we look back to the Old Testament, we see that Daniel viewed the end-time events, or the “time of the end,” as unfolding in three stages: tribulation, judgment and kingdom. This structure developed from his understanding of God’s interactions with the kings and kingdoms of the world (Dan 2:21–22, 47).
In Daniel’s time, Jerusalem was destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar, and the Jews were taken captive to Babylon (Dan 1–6). Daniel receives a series of visions detailing the oppressive campaign of the Greek tyrant Antiochus IV Epiphanes (Dan 7–12). His visions provide hope for the Jewish audience: The trials they’re facing in Babylon and under impending Grecian rule will ultimately end when God judges the foreign empires and establishes His kingdom. The kingdom of God was the ultimate hope—a utopian paradise in which justice and righteousness prevailed.
John builds his apocalypse on this foundation. In Revelation, humanity is suffering under the new Babylon: Rome (Rev 14:8). John reinterprets Daniel’s fourth kingdom as Rome (rather than Greece; compare Dan 2; 7), and he says that the kingdom of God will be preceded by a time of tribulation followed by judgment. Here’s how John applies this structure to bring hope to those experiencing conflict.
Suffering and hardships endured by the people of God
The people of God—that is the Church, both Jews and Gentiles—suffer under the oppressive Roman regime (Rev 2–3; 6:9–11). The joyous ceremony in chapter 5, describing “the Lion of the tribe of Judah … [who] has conquered,” hints that the Lamb is about to exact vengeance on the oppressors of His people (5:5).
The people of God must undergo suffering at the hands of the Babylonians, Medians, Persians and—ultimately—the Greeks (Dan 2). Daniel also mentions a fifth kingdom—the “kingdom made without human hands” (Dan 2:34–35), identified as the kingdom of God (Dan 2:44–45). This was the great hope for the exiled Jews.
Those who oppressed the people of God would be judged
Jesus did not establish an earthly, political kingdom at His first coming. He tells John He will do so when He returns. Then the kingdoms of the earth who oppress God’s people will be judged, and the righteous who suffered will be vindicated. This is seen throughout Revelation (see Rev 19:11–21; 20).
At the “time of the end,” the oppressive kingdoms of the earth would be judged, and God would establish His kingdom. The apocalyptic visions of Daniel 7–12 express this same hope: The people’s intense suffering at the hands of Antiochus Epiphanes will be followed by God’s judgment and the installment of His kingdom.
A just, utopian society for the people of God
Jesus taught about the ethics, morals and nature of the kingdom of God (e.g., Matt 5–7; 13); Jews in Jesus’ time believed that kingdom was imminent. But Jesus will not establish the earthly kingdom until He comes again (see Rev 20:4–5). The new Jerusalem in Revelation 21–22 represents the permanent rule of God and His Messiah on earth (see 21:3–8, 22–27; 22:1–5).
The arrival of this kingdom was supposed to follow the defeat of the Greek Empire (Dan 7:13–18). However, it didn’t happen in the way the Jews thought it would. The kingdom of God that Jesus introduced was radically different from the kingdom concept inherent in the messianic expectations of the Second Temple period.
Biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).